Eine Frau geht an einer Weltkarte, die aus Kinderporträts besteht, am Freitag (18.06.2010) im JuniorMuseum in Köln vorbei.

10.9.2012 | Von:
Nicholas Parrott

Irregular Migration

There are (as of January 2011) an estimated 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., 59% (6.8 million) of whom were from Mexico. Other major source countries were El Salvador (660,000), Guatemala (520,000), Honduras (380,000), and China (280,000). In 2011, 85 percent of the unauthorized immigrant population originated from only ten different countries.[1]

The number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. increased from 2-4 million in 1980 to about 8.5 million in 2000 and reached its peak in 2007 with an estimated 11.8 million. According to DHS estimations it is "unlikely that the unauthorized immigrant population increased after 2007 given relatively high U.S. unemployment, improved economic conditions in Mexico, record low numbers of apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants at U.S. borders, and greater levels of border enforcement."[2]


How to estimate the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S.

Estimated foreign born population on January 1, 2011: 33,600,000
Estimated legally resident population, January 1, 2011: 22,090,000
Estimated resident unauthorized population, January 1, 2011: 11,510,000

Source: Hoefer/Rytina/Baker (2012)
The issue of irregular migration is fiercely debated in the context of security concerns. It is the undocumented nature of these migrants' presence that is seen as problematic, particularly since September 2001.

It is presumed that the great majority of illegal immigrants have entered legally and overstayed their visas or arrived illegally via the southern land border between the U.S. and Mexico.

During the last fifty years there have been various, largely futile, attempts to prevent irregular migration. In 1954, Operation Wetback[3] resulted in the deportation of over one million Mexicans and U.S.-citizens of Mexican origin (in this case, the U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrants). Other measures, such as Operation Gatekeeper, which was carried out on the San Diego sector of the border in 1994, have simply forced people to attempt crossings in more dangerous areas of the border, away from the heavily protected westernmost section.

Much attention has been devoted to the shortcomings of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which was almost exclusively dedicated to the issue of unauthorized immigration. Approximately 3 million undocumented immigrants were legalized under the IRCA provisions. However, as it failed to create legal channels for migrants to help meet the high demand for labor in the U.S., it ultimately failed to stop the inflow of new irregular immigrants. Many legalized immigrants – who mostly came from Mexico and Central America – were subsequently joined by their families and relatives, touching off a wave of permanent immigration. This, in turn, resulted in a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, with particular concern being expressed about the issue of access to education, healthcare and welfare benefits.[4] An area of serious discussion in recent years, especially in the states bordering Mexico, has been the policing of the southern border of the U.S. Attempts to prevent further undocumented arrivals, including the construction of barriers across various sections of the border (as a result of e.g. the Secure Fence Act of 2006), have just driven would be migrants to use more extreme measures to get to the U.S., resulting in a large number of fatalities.[5]

Border crossings by illegal immigrants have evoked strong emotions among the general public and have led a number of private individuals to set up groups to monitor these crossings. Some of these groups have been accused of acting more like vigilantes than independent monitors. It is clear that voluntary border control militias cannot be tolerated, and that border control activities must be left to official border agents. However, any policy to increase border control cannot stand alone and must form part of a comprehensive reform of immigration policy (see discussion below).


Hoefer/Rytina/Baker (2012).
Hoefer/Rytina/Baker (2012, p. 1).
"Wetback" is a disparaging term for an unauthorized Mexican immigrant who crosses the Rio Grande into the U.S., sometimes swimming to get across.
See Durand et al. (1999), Gonzalez Baker (1997).
Estimates of individuals who died in attempted border crossings from 1994 to July 2009 range from 3,800 to 5,600 individuals (Jimenez 2009).


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